All social value work should adhere to the eight Principles of Social Value. We at Social Value Ireland decided it would be worthwhile delving into the Principles in a bit more detail. Our first members event to do this looked at Principles 1 and 2. These are some of the things that we learnt.
Principle 1: involve stakeholders
However much we might try to avoid jargon, it has a nasty habit of creeping up on us. Take the word ’stakeholder’ for instance; it is much used, but are we clear on what it actually means? Well, someone who holds a stake in something obviously, but that doesn’t get us an awful lot further. Dictionaries don’t help much either, with definitions emphasising the worlds of gambling and other types of business. Social Value International, in its discussions of stakeholders, talks of individuals, groups of individuals or organisations who affect, or are affected by, an activity. Another way of deciding whether or not someone is a stakeholder is to ask yourself; do they experience any sort of change?
When identifying your stakeholders, it is not helpful to say ‘everyone’, even if your role is to influence the general public in some way. It is important to be more specific and more detailed. Undertaking some sort of mapping exercise is useful. Initially, take a very broad approach and list everyone you can think of who might possibly be a stakeholder. Then you can differentiate between those who are your primary or key stakeholders (that is, those who affect or are affected most) from your secondary stakeholders (that is, those who affect or are affected least). Always be prepared to adjust your stakeholder map as you uncover new information about your stakeholders; this might mean adding or removing some people/organisations or grouping some together or splitting some further.
There are various reasons as to why it is the right thing to involve stakeholders in your analysis of social impact. Stakeholders are usually best-placed to accurately describe the changes that result from your activities, which may not always or solely be the ones you intended. If the conditions are right, they are also more likely to point to negative results or other areas requiring improvement, and if you deal with these, it will enable you to be more impactful. And of course, you are accountable to all of your stakeholders; not just those who fund or regulate you.
Saying that, there are risks associated with stakeholder involvement. For example, stakeholders are not always well-informed, they may prioritise short-term effects over longer-term ones, some loud voices may dominate, and the views of others may not be heard. In order to mitigate these risks, try to triangulate stakeholder data with the views of appropriate experts and relevant third party research wherever possible.
There are many different ways in which you can involve stakeholders. These range from informal chats and ad hoc written or verbal feedback, to one-to-one interviews (in person/online/telephone), to focus groups and other types of group discussions, to surveys (paper/online), to more creative approaches (such as photography or video).
Furthermore, there are all sorts of different things you can involve stakeholders in. You can ask them who they feel the activity’s stakeholders are and they might suggest people or organisations you hadn’t yet thought of. You can ask them what resources (time, money, energy, etc) they invested into the activity under review. You can find out what they thought about the activity. You can discover what changed for them as a result of the activity (that is, what outcomes were generated and how these relate to each other) and understand how important/valuable these outcomes were to them. You can figure out if the outcomes might have been brought about without your activity, if anybody else had a role in generating them, and how long they lasted. And later on, you can involve them to verify emerging results and help shape any resulting changes in practice.
Principle 2: understand what changes
‘Outcome' is another unavoidable piece of jargon. It is helpful to think about an outcome as a change, whether that be a change in awareness, attitude, capacity, behaviour or circumstance.
The importance of having well-defined outcomes cannot be overstated! You must make every effort to truly understand what changes for your stakeholders and be prepared to accept that sometimes it is nothing whatsoever! Then you are advised to draw up a ‘chain of events’ or ‘outcomes pathway’ that links inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes. Don’t lump people together who may appear similar but who are experiencing different outcomes or depth of outcomes. When doing this, think about demography, geography, level of satisfaction, and so on. It is tricky but vital to find the balance between telling one story of change that is overly generalised and too many incoherent individualised stories of change. Practice means you will get better at this over time.
Note that the level of detail and rigour that you adopt will depend on the purpose and audience of your analysis. If you are just doing a rough internal review to assist you with planning for the following year, there is no need to be overly precise. However, if you are doing a major piece of research that will be published externally and will have implications for public policy, it is vital that you are very precise. In the world of social value you will often hear the term ‘enough precision for the decision’ and it is always worth bearing this in mind.
Finally, the facilitator for this session (Sandra Velthuis) presented a brief case study of a SROI study she had recently completed with Newington Credit Union in Belfast to understand how to segment stakeholders and their outcomes. The full report of this study can be found here.
Keep an eye out for further sessions that we will run during 2023 on Principles 3-8.